La Polyphonie Flamande - The Flemish Polyphony
Contents list at end of review
rec. various dates and locations
Colour book of 200 pages
RICERCAR RIC 102 [8 CDs: 624:16]
The composers known collectively as the Fiamminghi made their mark in Europe in general and in Italy and in France in particular during the 15th century. Their talent and skill gained them the most important positions in the great musical establishments of the time. This collection is devoted to the leading composers of the 15th century, from those of the first generation (Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois, Arnold de Lantins and Johannes Brassart) through Johannes Ockeghem, the great master of polyphonic technique, to Josquin Desprez and Pierre de La Rue, two musicians taught by Ockeghem who laid the foundations of the Ars Perfecta during the Renaissance. Also included is Jacob Obrecht, the only composer of this school whose career was based essentially in his native Flanders. Every genre of both sacred as well as secular music of the time is represented here.
The labels grouped under the umbrella outhere ( have been issuing compilations of music in attractive boxes with extensive notes. After a Bach set on the Alpha label (see review), Ricercar has released a set in the same format covering Flemish Polyphony. It gives a lavish overview of the music and accomplishments of the Fiamminghi.
With the exception of two discs of music by Dufay and Ockeghem, each contains works by a variety of composers. The richly-illustrated book sets out notes about the major works, the composers and the history of this movement, though these do not follow the CDs. The book is in English, Dutch, French and German, with the text of each chapter in all four languages.
The recordings and performances, from a variety of ensembles and locations, are all very good, and each disc achieves an attractive program of Renaissance vocal music in its own right. It is best to see this set as an introduction to the style, rather than a coherent, didactic overview. Since it features only performers from Ricercar and its sister labels, there are certainly some gaps. Still it’s a useful and pleasing approach to this music.
Another way to discover Renaissance vocal music would be through the three 4-disc sets of Sacred Music in the Renaissance, by the Tallis Scholars. These are available from Gimell. Across their 12 discs Gimell covers many of the same composers and works. They also encompass music by composers from other countries including England and Italy. Gimell offer a coherence of performance and style, as the same ensemble sings all the works.
If you already know and appreciate this genre then you may have many of the works offered by Ricercar. The interest here lies more in having the attractive box and book. If you don’t know this type of polyphonic vocal music, this sumptuous volume is an excellent introduction to the style, focusing, as it does, on the area in Europe where the most important composers of the time developed their work.
Kirk McElhearn
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville (
An attractive set with a fine selection of Flemish polyphonic music from the Renaissance.

Contents list

CD 1
: Traces d'archaismes dans les Flandres au XVe siècle - Arnold de Lantins (Missa Verbum Incarnatum) - Dufay
(on y trouve Ciconia par Diabolus et La Morra, Arnold de Lantins, Grenon et Franchois par Capilla Flamenca et 2 motets de Dufay par Musica Nova)
CD 2: Dufay (Messe St Jacob par Capella Pratensis et 5 chansons par Continens Paradisi)
CD 3: Dufay - Fête-Dieu à Tongres 1444 (Messe Se la Face de Dufay, messe de Brassart par Capilla Flamenca et grégorien par Psallentes)
CD 4: Binchois - Ockeghem (4 motets de Binchois par Discantus, 5 chansons de Binchois par Continens Paradisi, Mort tu as navré par Vox Luminis, 5 chansons d'Ockeghem par Romanesque)
CD 5: Ockeghem (5 chansons par Romanesque, Missa Mi-mi par Capella Pratensis, Kyrie du Requiem par Organum)
CD 6: Nymphe des Bois - Alleluia (5 chansons de Josquin par Capilla FLamenca, 1 par vOx Luminis, 1 par Syntagma Amici, 3 chansons de Compere et Missa Alleluia de P. de la Rue par Capilla Flamenca)
CD 7: Alleluia - Obrecht - Prioris (17 pièces séculaires de Obrecht par Capilla FLamenca et Piffaro, 5 motets de Prioris par Capilla Flamenca)
CD 8: Bellum & Pax - Requiem de Prioris (L'homme Armé par De Cat, Werrecore, Obrecht, de la Rue, Josquin, Da Pacem par Brumel, Prioris et de la Rue par Capilla Flamenca, Psallentes et Oltremontano, Requiem de Prioris par Capilla Flamenca)